The Practice of Piety At Meals - by Rev. Lewis Bayly (1575-1631)Articles on The Christian Family
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Before dinner and supper, when the table is covered, ponder with thyself upon these meditations; to work a deeper impression in thy heart of God’s fatherly providence and goodness towards thee.
Meditations before Dinner and Supper.
Meditate that hunger is like the sickness called a wolf; which, if thou dost not feed, will devour thee, and eat thee up; and that meat and drink are but as physic, or means which God hath ordained, to relieve and cure this natural infirmity and necessity of man. Use, therefore, to eat and to drink, rather to sustain and refresh the weakness of nature, than to satisfy the sensuality and delights of the flesh. Eat, therefore, to live, but live not to eat. There is no service so base, as for a man to be a slave to his belly; the apostle terms such, belly-gods (Phil. iii. 19.) Therefore we may boldly term them, as the Scriptures do other idols, gillulim,49 dung-gods (Hab. ii. 18, 19; 2 Kings xv. 12.) And as no one action (God’s ordinances excepted) makes a man more to resemble a beast, than eating and drinking, so the abuse of eating and drinking to surfeiting and drunkenness, makes a man more vile than a beast.
2. Meditate on the omnipotency of God, who made all these creatures of nothing (Heb. xi. 3)—of his wisdom (Psal. cxlv. 15, 16), who feedeth so many infinite creatures through the universal world, maintaining all their lives, which he has given them, which surpasseth the wisdom of all the angels in heaven—and of his clemency and goodness, in feeding also his very enemies (Matt. v. 45, &c.; Acts xiv. 17.)
3. Meditate how many sorts of creatures, as beasts, fish, and fowl, have lost their lives, to become food to nourish thee; and how God’s providence from remote places has brought all these portions together on thy table for thy nourishment; and how by these dead creatures he maintains thee in health and life.
4. Meditate that seeing thou hast so many pledges of God’s fatherly bounty, goodness, and mercy towards thee, as there are dishes of meat on thy table, O suffer not in such a place, so gracious a God to be abused by scurrility, ribaldry, or swearing; or thy fellow-brother, by disgraceful backbiting, taunting, or slandering.50
5. Meditate how that thy master Jesus Christ did never eat any food, but first he blessed the creatures, and gave thanks to his heavenly Father for the same (Luke ix. 16; Matt. xiv. 19; xv. 36; Mark vi. 41; viii. 6; Luke xxiv. 30; John vi. 11.) And after his last supper, we read that he sung a 151 psalm (Matt. xxvi. 30; Mark xiv. 26;) for this was the commandment of God, “When thou hast eaten and filled thyself, thou shalt bless the Lord thy God,” &c. (Deut. viii. 10.) This was the practice of the prophets; for “the people would not eat at their feast, till Samuel came to bless their meat,” (1 Sam. ix. 13;) and saith Joel to God’s people, “Ye shall eat and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God.” (Joel ii. 26.) This also was the practice of the apostles; for St. Paul in the ship, gave thanks before meat, in the presence of all the people that were there (Acts xxvii. 35.)
Imitate, therefore, in so holy an action, so blessed a master, and so many worthy precedents that have followed him, and gone before thee. It may be, because thou hast never used to give thanks at meals, therefore thou art now ashamed to begin. Think it no shame to do what Christ did; but be rather ashamed that thou hast so long neglected so Christian a duty. And if the Son of God gave his Father such great thanks for a dinner of barley-bread and broiled fish (John vi. 9, 11), what thanks should such a sinful man as thou art render unto God for such variety of good and dainty cheer? How many a true Christian would be glad to fill his belly with the morsels which thou refusest; and do lack that which thou leavest! how hardly do others labour for that which they eat, and thou hast thy food provided for thee, without either care or labour! To conclude, if pagan idolaters at their feasts were accustomed to praise their false gods (Dan. v. 1, 4), what a shame is it for a Christian, at his dinners and suppers, not to praise the true God, “in whom we live, move, and have our being?” (Acts xvii. 28.)
6. Meditate that thy body, which thou dost now so daintily feed, must be, thou knowest not how soon, meat for worms, “When thou shalt say to corruption, Thou art my father; and to the worm,. Thou art my mother, and my sister.” (Job xvii. 44.)
7. Meditate, that many a man’s table is made his snare (Psal. lxix. 22;) so that through his intemperance and unthankfulness, the meat which should nourish his body, kills him with a surfeit; insomuch, that more are killed with this snare than with the sword (Gen. iii. 17.) And seeing that since the curse, the use of all creatures, so likewise of meat and drink, is to us unclean, till the same be sanctified by the word of God, and prayer; and that man liveth not by bread only, but by the word of God’s ordinance, and his blessing, which is called the staff of bread: sit not therefore down to eat, before you pray, and rise not before you give God thanks. Feed to suffice nature, yet rise with an appetite; and remember thy poor Christian brethren, who suffer hunger, and want those good things wherewith thou dost abound (1 Tim. iv. 4, 5; Matt. iv. 4; Lev. xxvi. 26; Ezek. iv. 16; v. 16; 1 Sam. ix. 13; Matt. xiv. 19; Luke xxiv. 30; 1 Cor. x. 16; Rom. xiv. 6; 1 Thess. v. 18; Eccles. x. 17; Luke xxi. 34; Neh. v. 17; Amos vi. 6.) These things, or some of them premeditated, if there be not a Samuel present (1 Sam. ix. 13), lift up with all comely reverence (Matt. xiv. 19) thy heart, with thy hands and eyes, to the great Creator and feeder of all creatures, and before meat, pray to him thus:—
Grace before Meat.
O most gracious God, and loving Father, who feedest all creatures living, which depend upon thy divine providence, we beseech thee, sanctify these creatures, which thou hast ordained for us; give them virtue to nourish our bodies in life and health; and give us grace to receive them soberly and thankfully, as from thy hands; that so, in the strength of these and thy other blessings, we may walk in the uprightness of our hearts, before thy face, this day, and all the days of our lives, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and only Saviour. Amen. (Psal. x. 17; Joel i. 10; Psal. cxlvii. 9; 1 Tim. iv. 5; 1 Kings xix. 8.)
Most gracious God, and merciful Father, we beseech thee, sanctify these creatures to our use, make them healthful for our nourishment, and make us thankful for all thy blessings, through Christ, our Lord and only Saviour. Amen.
Another Grace before Meat.
O eternal God, in whom we live, move, and have our being, we beseech thee bless unto thy servants these creatures, that in the strength of them we may live, to the setting forth of thy praise and glory, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and only Saviour. Amen. After every meal, be careful of thyself and family, as Job was for himself and his children (Job i. 4), lest that, in the cheerfulness of eating and drinking, some speech has slipped out, which might be either offensive to God or injurious to man; and therefore with the like comely gesture and reverence give thanks to God, and pray in this manner:— Blessed be thy holy name, O Lord our God, for these thy good benefits, wherewith thou hast so plentifully at this time refreshed our bodies. O Lord vouchsafe likewise to feed our souls with the spiritual food of thy holy word and spirit unto life everlasting. Lord defend and save thy whole church. Forgive us our sins and unthankfulness, pass by our manifold infirmities, make us all mindful of our last end, and of the reckoning we are then to make to thee, and in the meanwhile grant us health, peace, and truth, in Jesus Christ, our Lord and only Saviour. Amen.
Blessed be thy holy name, O Lord, for these thy good benefits wherewith thou hast refreshed us at this time. Lord forgive us all our sins and frailties; save and defend thy whole church; and grant us health, peace, and truth, in Christ our only Saviour. Amen.
We give thee thanks, O heavenly Father, for feeding our bodies so graciously with thy good creatures to this temporal life; beseeching thee likewise to feed our souls with thy holy Word unto life everlasting. Defend, O Lord, thy universal church, the queen, and the royal family; and grant us continuance of thy grace and mercy, in Christ our only Saviour. Amen.
49. Of galal, which signifies dung, as Ezek. iv. 15.
50. St. Austin had written over his table—Quisquis amat dictis absentem rode e amicum, Hanc mensam vetitam noverit esse sibi.—Possid. de vita Aug. 99 The Practice of Piety.